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On the short drive to the Laredo Country Club for the luncheon, Adams mentioned that Laredo voters had recently approved a bond issue for a special-events center that they hope to use as an ice hockey arena. He received a prolonged ovation for suggesting that Texas universities ought to recruit Nobel laureates with “the same effort that we used to attract [University of Texas football coach] Mack Brown.” After another round of handshaking, during which Perry’s one-hundred-watt smile never faded, we headed for Texas A&M International University.Perry noted that the street leading to the campus, as well as a prominent building, were named for his late predecessor, Bob Bullock, who was instrumental in getting the school established.If Bush wins the presidency, Perry will serve the remainder of Bush’s term; if Bush loses, Perry, as lieutenant governor and leader of the state Senate, will have far more influence over the course of the 2001 legislative session than a lame duck governor.
A few weeks before the Republican Convention, he made another appearance on television—one that was not planned, however, nor did it receive applause.On a blazing morning in August, I met him at a private airplane terminal for a trip to Laredo, where he was scheduled to address the chamber of commerce and meet with a group of teachers.It was the kind of pressure-free occasion a politician can use to win friends without being under the close scrutiny of the public and the media.The outlines of his career are fairly well known—Aggie yell leader, Air Force pilot, rancher, conservative Democrat legislator turned Republican statewide officeholder—but even among political insiders, Perry remains something of a mystery.Throughout his career, he has generated low expectations and exceeded them; his political opponents typically make the fatal mistake of underestimating him.The Aggie network is one of his biggest political assets. I talk about how people in Laredo are going to have to learn some new terms, like ‘wrister.'” He took a swing at a phantom puck. The well-dressed crowd in the elegant dining room represented professional Laredo, with both business and government leaders in attendance. Perry worked his way through the crowd, pumping hands with great enthusiasm. He made a joke about the rain, citing his dad’s wisdom (“Boy, don’t go out there and take credit for the rain ’cause then they’ll blame you for the drought”) and launched into a discussion of higher education, an issue he plans to make one of his top priorities.The current regents’ chairman and several predecessors endorsed Perry over Sharp, a fellow Aggie and onetime close friend of Perry’s. “And ‘put the biscuit in the net.'” He turned to his press secretary. The presidential campaign has spotlighted children’s health problems in Texas, but Perry knew from working with the region’s senators that what business and political leaders here want most from state government is increased funding for universities (and highways) to stimulate economic development.On the flight down he talked about the book he was carrying, Stephen Harrigan’s (“This guy’s a good writer”), and a trip he took earlier in the summer, during which he and his dad retraced the elder Perry’s World War II service.When he shifted to a discussion of a family friend who was killed in the war and the letters the young man had sent home, his eyes got misty.National political conventions put on display not only the party’s first team—the nominees for president and vice president and other big names in American politics—but also the second team, those who will be the leaders of tomorrow.And so, on the first day of the Republican Convention in Philadelphia, a newcomer to the national stage appeared on television screens across America.